Special Dispatch: Starbucks, Beijing Capital International Airport, China
Beijing Capital International Airport
by Des Ayuno
It takes a lot for me to set foot in a Starbucks – especially when delicacies like tea eggs, mustard pickles, red-bean buns and tooth-erodingly sweet soya gruel appear in even the humblest local breakfasts. But the only other option airside offered clingfilm-wrapped, condensation-sodden plates of noodles microwaved-while-u-wait. (Though I often enjoy mysterious street-market snacks that my nice, middle-class translator is convinced will leave me vomiting for days, mushy noodles were a bridge too far.) I queued up for a steaming mug of rapacious global capitalism behind a regrettably overweight pair of ladies from the American northeast. One interrogated a waitress about the availability of the kind of novelty coffees the ordering of which is a pretty good gauge of slappability. “Frappucino? Caramel macchiato? Chai tea laa-taay?” she repeated, ever louder and slower, as the waitress’ look of polite confusion settled into rictus.
My macchiato, though it had enough milk to send any red-blooded Italian apoplectic, was of the reliable, border-defying standard that is the whole point of places like Starbucks: it tasted exactly as it would in London, or Lithuania. In a nation that credits tea with the ability to cure everything from insomnia to cancer, it was an achievement. Avoiding “ethnic” versions of standard baked goods, I went for a carrot muffin, which came in an impressive-looking clamshell-style moulded-plastic carton I spent ten minutes trying to open, and then cut my finger on. It was still stale. It cost as much as ten breakfasts from the canteen of the print factory I’d come to visit, or three hours’ wages for the people who work there, or an amount some Londoners wouldn’t stoop to pick up in the street. That it didn’t leave me vomiting for days is the most that can be said for it.